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Ronald Franklin "Ron" Atkinson, (born 18 March 1939) commonly known as "Big Ron" and (earlier in his managerial career) "Bojangles" is an Englishmarker former football player and manager. In recent years he has become one of Britain's best-known football pundits. He is perhaps most famous for his idiosyncratic turn of phrase: his utterances have become known as "Big-Ronisms" or "Ronglish" - although in recent times, he has also attracted controversy over a racist comment broadcast on a TV sports show when he believed he was off the air.

Playing career

Ron Atkinson, who was born in Liverpoolmarker but moved to Birminghammarker a few weeks after his birth, did not achieve great heights in his playing career. He was originally signed by Aston Villa at the age of 17, but never played a first-team match for them and was transferred to Oxford United (then called Headington United) in the close season of 1959 on a free transfer. There he played with his younger brother Graham Atkinson. He went on to make over 500 appearances as a wing-half for the club, earning the nickname "The Tank" and scored a total of 14 goals. He was United's captain through their rise from the Southern League to the Second Division, achieved in just six years, from 1962 to 1968. He was the first man to captain a club from the Southern League through three divisions of the Football League.

Managerial career

Kettering Town and Cambridge United

After retiring from playing, Atkinson became manager of non-league Kettering Town in 1971, aged only 32. His success there led to a move to the league with Cambridge United, going on to win the then Fourth Division in 1977 and leaving them when they were on the verge of promotion to the Second Division.

West Bromwich Albion

At the start of 1978, Atkinson moved to manage First Division West Bromwich Albion He soon signed black player Brendon Batson from his former club, to play alongside the black pair of Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis. Never before had a team in the top division of English football simultaneously fielded three black players on a regular basis.

Atkinson led West Bromwich Albion to third place in the league in the season 1978–79 and also to the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. On 30 December 1978 they achieved a famous 5-3 victory over Manchester United at Old Traffordmarker. The club were second in the table at the time, only beaten off top spot from Liverpool by goal difference. They finished fourth in 1981, and shortly after this Atkinson became manager of Manchester United on the dismissal of Dave Sexton.

Manchester United

Atkinson was very much a manager with charisma and sparkle, quite the opposite to his predecessor (who had taken them to second place in the league in 1980 but never won a major trophy since his appointment in 1977).

In all of his five full seasons with United they did well. In 1981–82 United finished third in the First Division, to qualify for the UEFA Cup, though for much of the season they were one of several teams who topped the table before a late surge from Liverpool saw Bob Paisley's team seal the title. Early in the season he had paid a national record £1.75million for Bryan Robson from his old club West Bromwich Albion, and shortly afterwards also added midfielder Remi Moses (also from West Bromwich Albion) and Arsenal striker Frank Stapleton to his ranks.

In 1982–83 two appearances at Wembley, one of which was an FA Cup victory against Brighton & Hove Albion, coupled with another third place finish in the league, fuelled speculation that United were back in a big way. During the first half of the season, they had topped the league more than once but a storming run of form by Liverpool beginning before Christmas meant that the title headed for Anfieldmarker for the second year running.

In 1983–84, Atkinson's side reached the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners Cup and finished fourth in the First Division, although their defence of the FA Cup ended at the first hurdle which a shock 2-0 defeat at Third Division AFC Bournemouth. They finished fourth in the league, having topped the table at several stages once again. The end of the season saw the sale of key midfielder Ray Wilkins to AC Milan of Italymarker for £1.5million, while the duration of the season had seen the breakthrough of young striker Mark Hughes. Rather than plunge into the transfer market for a big name, Atkinson shifted 19-year-old striker Norman Whiteside into midfield to fill the gap left by Wilkins.

In 1984-85, United again won the FA Cup. However, Atkinson and his team were denied the chance of another European Cup Winners Cup campaign as the Heysel disastermarker at the European Cup final that year, resulted in an indefinite ban on all English clubs in European competitions (ultimately lasting five years).

In the 1985–86 they won their first 10 games of the league season to build a comfortable lead at the top of the table which lasted into the new year. However, their form tailed off badly and they again finished fourth. With the ban on English clubs in European competitions continuing, there wasn't even the consolation of a UEFA Cup place.

There was more disappointment for United's fans when the sale of Mark Hughes to FC Barcelona of Spainmarker was announced at the end of the season. Atkinson had prepared for Hughes's departure in March 1986 by paying Nottingham Forest £570,000 for England striker Peter Davenport. Although Davenport did play some good games for United, he failed to achieve the success that Hughes had achieved.

The 1986 close season saw speculation mount that Atkinson would be sacked by Manchester United and that Alex Ferguson would be recruited from Scottishmarker side Aberdeen to become his successor, but the 1986-87 season began with Atkinson still at the helm.

Although the club won two FA Cups during his tenure, he had spent heavily, paying over £8 million for new signings - which included Bryan Robson, Gordon Strachan and Jesper Olsen. He also brought through young talent such as Norman Whiteside, Mark Hughes and Paul McGrath.

He had recouped more than £6 million with the sale of highly-rated players including Ray Wilkins and Mark Hughes. The 1986–87 season opened disastrously with three successive defeats, and despite a minor upturn in September and October which included a 5-1 home win over Southampton in the league, the pressure on Atkinson remained immense and the board finally ran out of patience on 5 November 1986 when he was dismissed as manager the day after a 4-1 exit at the hands of Southampton in the League Cup. They were also second from bottom in the First Division.

Return to West Bromwich Albion

He returned to West Brom in the autumn of 1987, by which time they had fallen into the Second Division and were battling against relegation to the Third Division. Survival was achieved, as Albion finished the 1987-88 season in 20th place, and they began the 1988-89 season well, looking like serious promotion contenders. But then had a high-profile move to Atlético Madrid of Spainmarker.

Atlético Madrid

Atkinson's tenure at Atlético was quite a turbulent one and despite relative moderate success in terms of league position, a clash of personalities with the then club owner Jesus Gil led to Atkinson being sacked after just three months as manager. His right hand man at West Bromwich Albion, Colin Addison, was appointed - much to the dislike of Ron, who at the time in the English media went on record as saying Addison had "stabbed him in the back". They (Atkinson and Addison) never worked again as part of a team following the events of Atlético. His departure to Spain also had an adverse affect on West Bromwich Albion, whose promotion bid dramatically collapsed under new manager Brian Talbot.

Sheffield Wednesday

He was manager of Sheffield Wednesday from February 1989 to June 1991. Although the club were relegated in 1990 to the Second Division, a year later in 1991 he got them promoted back to the First Division. They also won the League Cup by beating Manchester United 1-0 at Wembley. He offended some Sheffield Wednesday fans by saying on 31 May 1991 that he would be staying as manager but a week later leaving to become Aston Villa manager.

Aston Villa

Taking over from Jozef Venglos, he led Aston Villa to second place in the inaugural FA Premier League season in 1992-93 and to victory in the League Cup in 1994, securing (ultimately short-lived) UEFA Cup campaigns for both of these successes.

Despite leading Villa to their first major success since their 1982 European Cup triumph, a mutual disliking between Villa chairman Doug Ellis and Ron that developed from 1992, inevitably resulted in him being sacked on 10 November 1994 following a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Wimbledon - three days after Ellis had given Ron a 'vote of confidence' in the media, stating that Atkinson was one of England's top three football managers. By this stage, an ageing Villa side that had so nearly won the league title 18 months earlier were now among the relegation battlers. He was replaced by Brian Little, who kept Villa in the top flight and built a new younger team.

Coventry City

Shortly after the Villa sacking, he became manager at Coventry City replacing Phil Neal who was purposely and acrimoniously replaced to make way for Atkinson. During his spell as manager of Coventry, he brought in high profile players including Gordon Strachan, Dion Dublin, Noel Whelan and Gary McAllister but they continued to struggle in the Premier League and by November 1996 he had become Director of Football, handing over managerial duties to former player and subesequent assistant boss Gordon Strachan.

Return to Sheffield Wednesday

In November 1997, he returned to Sheffield Wednesday following the sacking of David Pleat. Wednesday had made a poor start to the 1997-98 season, including a 7-2 loss at Blackburn and a 6-1 loss at Manchester United. Under Atkinson, Wednesday's form picked up immediately and they pulled well clear of relegation trouble, but he was not rewarded with a permanent contract. It was deemed (in football and media circles) that this action was an act of revenge by the Wednesday board for the manner in which he had left Wednesday for Villa in 1991, just days after he had gone public in the press pledging his immediate future to Hillsborough.

Nottingham Forest

His last managerial job came with Nottingham Forest, for the final four months of the 1998-99 season. This spell was not a success and at his first home game he even climbed into the wrong dug-out. He also managed to upset many Forest fans following an 8-1 defeat at home to Manchester United, when he stated in an interview after the game that his team had given the fans a "nine-goal thriller".In a 2007 interview, Pierre van Hooijdonk, who was a Forest player at the time, said he sometimes got the impression the side was managed by Rowan Atkinson. In 1999, having resumed playing for Forest (following a somewhat petulant 'strike' by Pierre van Hooijdonk), Atkinson was quoted as saying that "his (Pierre van Hooijdonk) biggest talent was upsetting his team mates."

Broadcasting career

TV work

Atkinson was already working as a pundit for ITV and after leaving management he continued in this role. For a number of years he covered most of the channel's live matches, sometimes as a studio guest, but more often as the "ex-football insider" member of a two-man commentary team. This exposure led to "Ronglish" becoming known to a wider audience. With his permanent suntan and taste for chunky, gaudy jewellery, he was often portrayed as a lovable buffoon in the UK media. Examples of Ronglish includes the adopted footballing phrase "early doors", a phrase that has been a subject of debate in football circles (partly because its precise origin and meaning is unclear). It is credited as one of Ron's most famous and original pundit quips. Another famous line regularly heard during Ron's 1990's ITV football pundit work would be exclaiming in disbelief at a miss, stating "you would have put your mortgage on him (the player) scoring there".


In 2002, Atkinson released a Christmas song, "It’s Christmas - Let’s Give Love a Chance" , but this failed to gain chart success. The following year, Ron Atkinson guested on an episode of TV chat show Room 101 and host Paul Merton played the video as outro to the show. Atkinson also revealed that he was friends with singer Renato Pagliari of Renée and Renato, and the singer made a surprise guest appearance on the show.

Racism controversy

Ron Atkinson's media work came to an abrupt halt on 21 April 2004, when he resigned from ITV after he broadcast a racial remark live on air about the black Chelsea player Marcel Desailly: believing the microphone to be switched off, he said, "...he [Desailly] is what is known in some schools as a lazy thick nigger". Although transmission in the UK had finished, the microphone gaffe meant that his comment was broadcast to various countries in the Middle East. He also left his job as a columnist for The Guardian "by mutual agreement" as a result of the comment.

It was not the first time Atkinson had committed a microphone gaffe. His comments about AS Roma player, Francesco Totti were broadcast to amazed German TV viewers. His view that "He actually looks a little twat, that Totti" however received very little criticism from the UK media.

Since the Desailly incident, Atkinson has claimed that the comment was an aberration and that he is not racist, citing in his defence that his West Brom side was the first high-profile British club to have a significant number of black players. This, however, has not diminished the condemnation he has received from anti-racist groups and the public at large, who question whether Atkinson would have resigned had the comment not been accidentally broadcast and note that it was not the first time he had used racist language. In an article published in the Sunday Times on 19 September 2004, Atkinson was referred to as "Racist Ron". A BBC Radio documentary about the Three Degrees, repeated on 16 May 2004, was cancelled owing to Atkinson's central contributions.

Later in 2004, the Daily Mirror reported how he sparked more hostility among fans by making derogatory remarks about Chinese women, proclaiming that "Chinese women were the unprettiest in the world..." He followed this with a joke by saying the population of China is such as it is because of their lack of knowledge of contraception; all of which he said during a meeting over a meal.

Other TV work

It was reported Atkinson was being brought in to support Iffy Onuora at Swindon Town in December 2005, and Atkinson and the club appeared to confirm this. However it later transpired that Atkinson's role was simply as part of a Sky One documentary about the club being filmed at the County Ground. In late January 2006 Atkinson and Swindon parted company, with Swindon manager Onuora citing interference as the main reason for stopping the documentary from going ahead. Just a week later the cameras turned up at Peterborough United's ground, London Road, to begin filming for the documentary called Big Ron Manager. It is believed Peterborough owner Barry Fry was offered £100,000 to allow the filming to take place. Just three months later the club was thrown into turmoil as caretaker manager Steve Bleasdale resigned just 70 minutes before kick off against Macclesfield Town (22 April 2006) citing interference from a number of people in the running of first team affairs, many believing the documentary involving Ron Atkinson had a major part to play.

Atkinson spent the 2006 World Cup recording an amateur video blog and distributing it through the UK-based video sharing site, He also provided commentary on the World Cup for the UK digital channel UKTV G2.

Atkinson recently took part in the BBC Two programme Excuse My French. Atkinson, comedian Marcus Brigstocke and television presenter Esther Rantzen were immersed in the French language by staying in a remote town in the Provence region, being compelled to adapt to the French lifestyle and speak the language. His assignment at the end of the course was to provide a match analysis on a football match (Paris Saint-Germain - AS Monaco) in French for a French radio station. Being a complete beginner to the French language, he found the experience a considerable challenge, although he succeeded. The assignment was made more difficult by the fact that the match concerned was a dull goalless draw, leaving him with little to talk about.

He briefly made a return to television, appearing as a pundit on Football Italia broadcast on Bravo. Since Serie A coverage has been shown on Five and ESPN UK however, Atkinson has not been invited as a pundit.

Ron Atkinson brought out a warts and all autobiography upon the airing of Wife Swap - "60 Minutes with Ron Atkinson" upon which he talks about his controversial comments and his football career

Atkinson returned to the screen on 16 August 2009 on the Channel 4 reality show Celebrity Wife Swap. However, when questioned about his controversial comments by swappee Tessa Sanderson, he became very defensive and refused to discuss it. "The whistle has gone. Full time. End of story... the subject is closed."

Director of Football

On 23 January 2007 Atkinson returned to Kettering Town, the club he had managed more than 30 years previously, as Director of Football. However it was announced on 19 April 2007 that he had left the post at the Conference North club following his disapproval over the sacking of manager Morell Maison.

On 18 October 2007, it was announced that the 68-year-old Atkinson would take over as consultant at Halesowen Townmarker, where he would assist Morell Maison who would be appointed manager. Atkinson, apparently, left his role at Halesowen in order to pursue business interests.


As a player

Oxford United

As a manager

Kettering Town

Cambridge United

Manchester United

West Bromwich Albion

Sheffield Wednesday

Aston Villa

Managerial statistics

Team Nat From To Record
G W L D Win %
Kettering Town 1971 1974
Cambridge United November 1974 January 1978 146 68 36 42
West Bromwich Albion January 1978 June 1981 159 70 36 53
Manchester United June 1981 November 1986 292 146 67 79 50.00
West Bromwich Albion September 1987 October 1988 53 15 23 15 28.30
Atlético Madrid 23 October 1988 16 January 1989 12 6 3 3 50.00
Sheffield Wednesday February 1989 June 1991 118 49 34 35
Aston Villa July 1991 November 1994 178 77 56 45
Coventry City February 1995 November 1996 74 19 28 27
Sheffield Wednesday November 1997 May 1998 27 9 11 7
Nottingham Forest January 1999 May 1999 16 4 10 2 25.00
Peterborough United April 2006 May 2006 3 1 2 0
Total 1078 464 306 308


  1. The database quotes his middle name as Frederick
  3. Words of condemnation for Big Ron

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